Aside from the FIFA World Cup, Russia is hosting another international affair of epic proportions on July 21 when Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev lock horns in Moscow for the anticipated finale of the World Boxing Super Series.
The cruiserweights are a contrast in styles. And styles make fights, as the adage goes.
An array of stylistic matchups make up this month’s boxing schedule—some mismatches, others with the action and prestige worth tuning into.
Here are the top 10 fights to watch in July.
10. Jose Carlos Ramirez vs. Danny O’Connor
10. Egidijus Kavaliauskas vs. Juan Carlos Abreu
With Juan Ramirez’s title defense against Danny O’Connor off, Top Rank’s ESPN card on July 7 will be headlined by welterweights Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas (19-0, 16 KO) and Juan Carlos Abreu (21-3-1, 19 KO).
Kavaliauskas, 30, is building a reputation for being one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, known for interchanging rights and left hands in a furious pace. In February, former world champion David Avanesyan was at the receiving end of Kavliauskas’ attack. The Lithuanian punching machine forced the referee to call a halt to things in Round 6. After some time with renown trainer Robert Garcia, Kavaliauskas is working primarily with Marco Contreras out of Oxnard, CA, who has also been developing light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
Abreu, 31, was known for his inconsistency before he met up with the brawling Jesus Soto Karass in 2017. Coming off a points loss to U.S. Olympian Alex Martin, Abreu put all his tools together to overmatch Karass, eventually stunning his man twice with a slashing right uppercut and pummeling Karass around en route to a Round 8 TKO.
The NABF “title” may be on the line here, but a dominant win for Kavaliauskas sets him up for a real championship fight as he is already the No. 2-rated contender to Terence Crawford’s WBO belt.
9. Christopher Diaz vs. Masayuki Ito
On July 28, Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz (23-0, 15 KO) and Masayuki Ito (23-1-1, 12 KO) meet in the classic matchup between puncher and mover, at the Kissimmee Civic Center in Florida, for the vacant WBO super featherweight title.
Top Rank has invested a lot of stock into Diaz. The Puerto Rican prospect climbed the sanctioning body rankings after doing a number on veterans Raul Hirales and Fernando Vargas. Last year, Diaz showed off his ferocious left hook on ESPN, stopping Bryant Cruz in three rounds. His last bout, however, against Braulio Rodriguez left some questions marks. Before a hand injury in Round 4, Rodriguez carried his own in the fight. Diaz was still awarded a TKO victory.
Ito did not miss many fighting through a serious 130-pound Japanese scene, unifying the Asia Pacific and OPBF belts, defeating domestic standout Takuya Watanabe and the big-punching Masao Nakamura. The 27-year-old title challenger is a supremely-accurate, fleet-footed boxer. His lone loss was a majority decision to Rikki Naito who now competes at 140 pounds.
The super featherweight class needs a fresh face. Look no further than this fight.
8. Ryuya Yamanaka vs. Vic Saludar
On July 13, defending WBO minimumweight champion Ryuya Yamanaka(16-2, 5 KO) hopes to stave off the dangerous Vic “Vicious” Saludar (17-3, 10 KO) in Kobe, Japan.
Yamanaka, 23, is ranked No. 6 in the world by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB). He owns victories over former titleholders Merlito Sabillo and Tatsuya Fukuhara. The Japanese is a smooth stylist by trade, but he looked more lethal than ever last time out. In March, Yamanaka stopped two-time title challenger Moises Calleros in eight rounds, disguising uppercuts that tore through the Mexican banger’s guard.
Japanese fight fans will remember Saludar for dropping Kosei Tanaka in 2015. The Filipino puncher smashed a right hand into the prodigious talent’s face in Round 5 of their championship contest. Saludar, 27, prepares for his second chance at glory having won six of his last seven fights.
A win over Saludar should propel Yamanaka into the pantheon of the division.
7. Carlos Canizales vs. Bin Lu
A partisan crowd in Kuala Lumpur, China, makes Bin Lu (1-0, 1 KO) the “A-side” on July 15 when he challenges Carlos “CCC” Canizales (20-0-1, 16 KO) for the WBA light flyweight title.
Bin, a celebrated amateur boxing, has more experience fighting without headgear than the one contest (a third-round knockout of an unheralded opponent) on his official record. In 2016, the Chinese super prospect handily beat former champion Xiong Zhao Zhong in a “cross-code” bout. That summer, though, Bin was stunned in the opening round of the Rio Olympics. More recently, he won the 2018 Chinese National Title, demonstrating sharp combinations that guarantee more success in the pro ranks than countryman Zou Shiming.
Canizales, 25, is No. 4 in the world, per TBRB. He has also been on the road before, earning the strap in Japan with a unanimous-decision verdict over the previously undefeated Reiya Konishi. The highlight of the match was a particularly violent Round 12. Before that, Canizales took the excellent unified beltholder Ryoichi Taguchi the distance, settling for a controversial points loss.
Bin could become the first boxer in history to win a championship in just his second professional fight. Canizales, though, will not roll over for anyone.
6. Moruti Mthalane vs. Muhammad Waseem
Headlined by Manny Pacquiao, Top Rank’s show in China on July 15 features four world title fights. The vacant IBF flyweight belt will be on the line between established little-weight favorite Moruti “Babyface” Mthalane (35-2, 24 KO) and amateur star Muhammad “Falcon” Waseem (8-0, 6 KO).
Forced into inactivity by promotional disputes, Mthalane is already 35—ancient for the 112-pound class. But he is still ranked No. 4 in the world by TBRB. He has not lost a fight since 2008 against Nonito Donaire. A year later, the South African boxer-puncher won his first world title. Today, his most recognizable wins are a fifth-round stoppage of two-divisional champion John Riel Casimero and another Round 5 TKO over current WBO beltholder Zolani Tete, pelting Tete along the ropes until the referee had seen enough.
In headgear, Waseem fought all over Asia and placed twice at the Commonwealth Games—winning bronze in 2010 and silver in 2014. Originally born in Pakistan, the 30-year-old prospect is training out of Las Vegas under the tutelage of Jeff Mayweather. Under Mayweather, Waseem has nearly perfected his attack from the mid-range, always in position to drum his opponent’s face with successive short jabs. In 2016, the two teamed up to outpoint former title challenger Jether Oliva.
Superstars are not easy to come by at flyweight. Victory on the same stage as Pacquiao could make Waseem the division’s hottest commodity.
5. Jaime Munguia vs. Liam Smith
Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KO) was an unheralded name when he replaced Liam “Beefy” Smith (26-1-1, 14 KO) for the chance to unseat WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali. Now, on July 21, Smith represents Munguia’s first title defense in Las Vegas.
Munguia, 21, returns to the ring two months after winning the belt in May. TBRB ranks the champion from Mexico fifth in the division. He has recorded a knockout in 19 of his last 20 fights. Over that stretch, only the veteran Johnny Navarrete survived the distance. In March 2018, Munguia overcorrected the matter in a rematch, ending Navarrete’s night in three rounds.
Fighting out of the UK’s Liverpool, Smith, top-10 according to TBRB, finds power in his shots when he needs it most. In 2015, Smith was down on the cards to John Thompson before knocking the American out in Round 7 to claim the WBO strap. Two more knockouts of the previously undefeated fighters Jimmy Kelly and Predrag Radosevic made up a couple of successful defenses. Smith has since put on two fun scraps with the excellent Liam Williams.
The 154-pound class felt stagnant since Canelo Alvarez moved to middleweight. But Munguia is one of the young champions carrying the division forward, committed to facing ranked challengers.
4. Lucas Matthysse vs. Manny Pacquiao
On July 15, boxing faithful will see what Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KO) has left when he challenges Lucas Matthysse (39-4, 36 KO) for the WBA title.
Pacquiao, 39, is coming off an upset loss to Jeff Horn. The legendary southpaw will be without Freddie Roach for the first time since 2001. That year, Pacquiao lifted the IBF super bantamweight title. Over his career, he managed to win the lineal championship from flyweight to welterweight. His left hand sliced up an array of styles, but perhaps not a puncher like Matthysse.
The 35-year-old knockout artist from Argentina is also in the twilight of his career. In January, the WBA trinket fell into Matthysse’s lap. All he had to do was floor Tewa Kiram, a lengthy boxer from Thailand with a severely padded record. Matthysse found himself at the end of the Thai’s lackadaisical jab for nearly eight rounds before dropping Kiram for good with a suspicious left hand.
Anchoring a stacked undercard, Pacquiao and Matthysse ought to live up to the reputation that precedes them.
3. Joseph Parker vs. Dillian Whyte
Joseph Parker (24-1, 18 KO) and Dillian Whyte (23-1, 17 KO) are two of the five best heavyweights on the planet and will battle on July 28 at the O2 Arena in London, UK.
In March, the helm of boxing’s maximum division slipped out of Parker’s grasp, losing his WBO strap by decision to heavyweight kingpin Anthony Joshua. The loss is the only one of the 26-year-old Kiwi’s career. Parker is a scary puncher but, more importantly, a patient one, masking combinations with parries and range-finding throwaway shots. He holds wins over a handful of quality contenders such as Carlos Takam, Andy Ruiz Jr., and Hughie Fury.
Whyte, 30, had a shot of his own at Joshua in 2015, testing the future champion’s chin before succumbing to a seventh-round knockout. The Jamaican-born heavyweight last beat former titleholder Lucas Browne in March. The KO victory was a nice addition to a ledger that includes wins over European champion Robert Helinius and domestic rival Dereck Chisora.
Heavyweights hold a special place in the sport. Parker and Whyte should add another chapter to the illustrious history of the weight class.
2. Mikey Garcia vs. Robert Easter Jr.
On July 28, Mikey Garcia (38-0, 30 KO) and Robert Easter Jr. (21-0, 14 KO) will unify a pair of lightweight belts.
Despite a couple of fights at junior welterweight, Garcia, 30, is still WBC champion at 135 pounds. An early knockout of the world-ranked Dejan Zlaticanin remains Garcia’s only official contest at lightweight. He remains unscathed across 20 pounds as a prizefighter, originally claiming the featherweight championship in 2013. Over the last calendar year, the California native demonstrated his supreme counterpunching against the infamous Adrien Broner and entirely outboxed the previously undefeated Sergey Lipinets.
Easter, 27, has remained at lightweight his entire career, currently ranked No. 5 in the class. In 2016, he beat down former champion Argenis Mendez for a shot at the vacant IBF strap and outlasted Ghanaian brawler Richard Commey for the belt outright. Easter has not looked dominant since but still boasts points wins over recognizable names like Javier Fortuna and Denis Shafikov.
Garcia is giving up five inches in height to Easter so he will be knocking on the pound-for-pound throne if he can show up the taller man.
1. Oleksandr Usyk vs. Murat Gassiev
The acclaimed Super Series wraps up their first tournament on July 21, pitting together the world’s two premier cruisers: Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KO) and Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KO).
All four major sanctioning bodies are throwing their hat into this one, the IBF, WBC, WBA, and WBO belts are up for grabs.
Usyk, 31, is on the road again after traveling to Germany to batter Marco Huck and edging out Mairis Briedis in Latvia. The Olympic gold medalist has stopped 11 men in his pro career, including the world-rated Thabiso Mchunu. The Ukrainian is dominating the paid ranks no different than he did in the amateur circuit, plying a fluid two-fisted attack, darting into his opponent’s from any and every angle.
Gassiev, 24, outmuscled longtime powerhouse Denis Lebedev for the IBF crown in 2016. Then he unified another belt with WBA titleholder Yunier Dorticos, knocking out the surgical-punching Cuban in Round 12. Gassiev has authored 19 stoppages with his colossal power, destroying cruisers young and old—from Krzysztof Wlodarczyk to Jordan Shimmell.
The winner will be the undisputed, lineal champion of the 200-pound class. This level of matchmaking have made cruiserweights the most beloved group of bruisers in the sport.
Header photo: TrappFotos
Munguia photo: Hogan Photos
Pacquiao photo: Al Bello/Getty Images
Andre Berto enthusiast | Bylines at Bleacher Report and Today's Knockout | Follow me for live streams at twitter.com/BoxingContreras